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How Israel Became the First Rich Country to Go Into a Second Nationwide Coronavirus Lockdown

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Israel was one of the earliest adopters of stringent measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, forcing all foreign arrivals to self-isolate on March 9, just before the World Health Organization announced a global pandemic. This week, as cases rise, it is set to become the world’s first country to enter a second nationwide shutdown.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the new three-week-long shutdown in a televised message to Israelis on Sunday evening. Returning Israel to shutdown, he said, would “exact a heavy price on us all.” That address came shortly before the Prime Minister flew to Washington D.C., where on Tuesday he is set to sign a historic normalization agreement with foreign ministers from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—only the third and fourth Arab countries respectively, to make peace with Israel since its founding.

Polls show that Israelis welcome that development in foreign policy but it contrasts with serious discontent at home. Since June, thousands of protesters have gathered at weekly demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence and elsewhere in Israel, calling for Netanyahu to resign over his serial corruption indictments, his mismanagement of the country’s COVID-ravaged economy, and his role in Israel’s ongoing constitutional crisis. The new measures, which are set to come into force hours before the start of Jewish New Year this Friday, have drawn further backlash from small businesses, and religious communities.

Here’s what to know about the new shutdown, how Israelis are reacting, and what lessons it could have for other parts of the world where cases are rising.

Why is Israel locking down for a second time?

The shutdown comes on the recommendation of Israel’s Health Ministry and Netanyahu’s coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu. Shortly after Gamzu took up the post in July, he told local television networks that the “socioeconomic trauma” inflicted by COVID restrictions was greater than its health impact. With Israel still in recession and the unemployment rate above 25% Gamzu said he had no plans to reimpose lockdown measures.

Those plans have changed in light of Israel’s soaring infection rate. In recent days, Israel has registered between 3,000 and 4,000 new cases daily and there are currently more than 40,000 active cases in a country of just 9-million people. Ahead of religious holidays that traditionally see Israelis gather with relatives at home, or attend prayers in synagogues, hospital directors have warned Israel’s parliament that the healthcare system risks collapse if cases keep rising. On Monday, one overburdened hospital in northern Israel announced it would not be accepting any more coronavirus patients because of overcrowding.

What does the shutdown actually entail?

The official regulations are still being debated in parliament and are subject to change. But the most stringent measure appears to be an order for Israelis to stay within 500 meters of their homes, with fines imposed on those who venture further for non-essential reasons.

The lockdown period is slated to begin hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year, this Friday and last for three weeks. The period also encompasses Simchat Torah and on Sept. 27 Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. While complicated rules govern how many people are permitted to congregate for prayers at synagogues—with the number varying according to local infection rates—traveling to meet relatives is unlikely to be permitted, reports Israel’s Haaretz. “This is not the kind of holiday we are used to,” Netanyahu told Israelis, “And we certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families.”

The new measures will shutter shopping malls and other non-essential stores, and nix in-restaurant dining—pharmacies and supermarkets are allowed to remain open. Schools, which Israel reopened after its first lockdown in May, are set to close for the entire period. Israel’s finance ministry has estimated the cost of the second lockdown at $1.88billion.

What’s the situation like in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

In March, the U.N. Security Council commended joint efforts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the occupied territories, but said in July that a breakdown in co-operation had put lives at risk. Deteriorating relations “significantly compounded” the health sector’s ability to respond to a surge in cases in the West Bank, and improve prevention efforts in Gaza, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said in a statement at the time. There are now more than 39,000 people with COVID in the West Bank, with a further 2,000 in Gaza, according to UNOCHA.

A 12-year-long Israeli–Egyptian air, land, and sea blockade restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, which is administered by Hamas. NGOs have warned of “catastrophic” consequences should the disease spread among Gaza’s 2-million population, but until recently the blockade had shielded the 25-mile-long coastal enclave from the worst of the pandemic. Until late last month, Hamas had recorded no infections outside of quarantine centers set up at Gaza’s border crossings.

This bought time for authorities to build capacity in the healthcare system and prepare for the worst, says Salam Khashan, a family doctor who works at Gaza hospitals dealing with the COVID crisis. Preparation included developing Gaza’s tele-healthcare infrastructure and setting up non-hospital quarantine centers in schools and other buildings. Attendance is mandatory for asymptomatic positive cases, in one of the world’s most densely populated territories, where self-isolating at home is virtually impossible.

After Gaza’s first community case was discovered on Aug 24, Hamas instigated a 48-hour curfew. On Monday, Khashan tells TIME, authorities recorded an additional 108 new infections in the past 24 hours. “We are able to deal with about 280 new positive cases per day,” she says. “If numbers are above this level, we will be out of control.”

Who is opposing the new measures in Israel?

Netanyahu enjoyed a bump in popularity for his initial response to the global pandemic and urged Israelis to “go out and celebrate” when the first lockdown ended in May. This time, he is facing far more resistance.

One lawmaker has already quit the government. In a resignation letter submitted Monday, Israel’s housing minister Yaakov Litzman—who is ultra-Orthodox—criticized the impact of the new rules on religious festivals, which he said “wrongs and scorns hundreds of thousands of citizens.” That echoes ultra-Orthodox criticism of Israel’s initial lockdown, during which a prominent rabbi argued that suspending religious students’ Torah study was more dangerous to Israel than the coronavirus.

But opposition to the second shutdown extends far beyond religious quarters. Hard right lawmaker Naftali Bennett called the new measures a “hammer blow” to small businesses, while centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid said the need to reimpose a lockdown evidenced the Prime Minister’s failure to deal with the crisis. Some shopkeepers have vowed to remain open in spite of the new rules and a hundreds-strong restaurateurs’ association told Israel’s Haaretz the new restrictions would “crush the economy.”

Meanwhile, the demonstrations calling for Netanyahu’s resignation are set to continue. Guidelines issued by Israel’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday state that the new travel restrictions do not prevent Israelis from attending protests, but there remains a lack of clarity over what is and isn’t permitted.

The situation here is completely chaotic. We don’t understand the rules,” says Emma Maghen Tokatly, a Tel Aviv-based cultural curator who for 12 successive weekends has joined demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. “I just saw a message saying up to 1,000 people can be in a Synagogue. But I can’t eat my Rosh Hashanah dinner with my parents?” Whatever the regulations turn out to be, Tokatly adds, continuing the protests is crucial, “to let the government know they’re failing us.”





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He Killed 2 Marines in 2011. It Almost Derailed Peace Talks This Month.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — He was a young Afghan police officer working alongside American forces in one of the hot spots of the war, with Taliban ambushes all around. Then he turned his weapon on two U.S. Marines, killing them both.Now, he is out of prison.His attack, in Helmand province in 2011, was a serious eruption in a phenomenon that within a year would redefine the American war in Afghanistan: insider killings, often by members of the Afghan security forces who, like the police officer, were not at the time part of the Taliban.But just this month, that officer, Mohammad Dawood, 31, reached the top of the Taliban's list of prisoners they wanted released as they negotiated the opening of peace talks with the Afghan government. And along with just five other men detained after killing Westerners, his fate became a sticking point that nearly derailed the whole process, officials say.While the Taliban made the men's release an ultimatum before they would go to the table, officials for the United States, France and Australia were quietly urging the Afghan government not to let them go — even as they told the Afghan government to free thousands of other Taliban prisoners with Afghan blood on their hands in order to open the way for the talks.Only a last-minute deal to remand the six to a kind of house arrest in Qatar allowed the opening of peace talks on Sept. 12.Dawood, whose name had not been publicly released but whose identity was confirmed by American and Afghan officials, now stands as a symbol of the difficulty — and tough choices — involved in trying to make peace in the middle of a bitter war.Dawood's killings of Lt. Col. Benjamin Palmer and Sgt. Kevin Balduf in 2011 represent only a fraction of more than 40 years of violence. But the Taliban's willingness to go to the brink for him in negotiations, despite his acting only on his own behalf, according to his family and close friends, was a stark demonstration of how even isolated disputes can threaten the peace process."We are not happy about the release of some prisoners, and we know our allies Australia and France are not happy about the release of some," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan peace. In all, the Afghan government freed 5,000 prisoners demanded by the Taliban. "But we understand that this difficult step was in the service of something even more important, which is to get the Afghan war to come to an end, and it was a necessary step."The Taliban have consistently made prisoner releases a priority — most notably in the 2014 exchange of an American soldier held by the Taliban for five years, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, for five senior Taliban figures who were being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. That deal brought heavy criticism for the Obama administration, and during his campaign for the presidency in 2016, Donald Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a traitor who should be executed.Both Khalilzad as well as Mutlaq al-Qahtani, the Qatari special envoy for the process, refused to discuss details of the arrangement regarding the six prisoners, including where in Qatar the men are being held and under what circumstances. Amrullah Saleh, Afghanistan's vice president, in a recent interview said the men would not be allowed to leave Qatar — all the pages on their passports are crossed out except for the one with the Qatari visa.Stopping deadly insider attacks like the one by Dawood was once an urgent imperative for the Obama administration. By the end of President Barack Obama's first term, cultural tensions and increasing pressure from the Taliban had spilled over into violence as Afghan troops turned their guns on their Western allies, threatening to derail the war effort.By the height of the war, Americans were building outposts within outposts to defend themselves from the very people they were supposed to be training and fighting alongside.Insider attacks became a grim feature of the conflict. The deaths of Palmer, 43, and Balduf, 27, came during a flurry of such killings that peaked in 2012, accounting for 15% of coalition troops who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan that year.Of the four U.S. troops killed in combat in 2020, two were killed in an insider attack in February, marking the last U.S. troops to die from hostile fire before the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.But as was the case for many such attacks, Dawood was not a part of an insurgent group when he killed the two Marines, according to those close to him and to an Afghan official familiar with his case.Born in Naw Bahar, a small, staunchly anti-Taliban village in Baghlan province, Dawood was one of five brothers and the son of Mohammad Zahir, a poor wheat farmer. He studied at a madrassa in Kunduz and Baghlan, before studying in Pakistan and Iran, where like many Afghans he worked for a brief time.Safdar Mohseni, head of the Baghlan provincial council, said Dawood had most likely turned to the Taliban in prison, looking for support."He was a good person to me in every way — psychologically, scientifically, religiously — and was a patriot," said Saqi Mohammad Numani, a religious scholar who taught Dawood for several years. "Like Dawood, I have thousands of students who are not in favor of violence and terror, and Dawood was not in favor of violence."After returning from Iran, Dawood was engaged to be married, but because he was low on money, he joined the Afghan police. He trained in Kabul for six months in 2010 and graduated as a sergeant, according to a senior police official who served alongside him in southern Afghanistan.Not long after Dawood left police training in 2011, he was assigned to the Afghan National Civil Order Police's 5th Brigade, a new unit the U.S. military was training in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province. As the Taliban began regaining ground, U.S. and NATO forces started a concerted effort to professionalize the police force to hold what districts the Afghan government still controlled.On May 12, 2011, Dawood walked from the Afghan portion of his base in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and entered the U.S. side, where his Marine advisers lived, slept and ate.A small group of Marines were outside eating dinner when Dawood lifted his assault rifle and began firing, killing Palmer and Balduf. Marines fired back, wounding Dawood.Cultural misunderstandings and disgust with Westerners were traced to many insider killings. When the attacks began in earnest in 2008, they took a deep toll on the U.S.-Afghan relationship, sowing doubt and distrust that was only exacerbated by the stress of training and combat.In a country rife with anti-Semitism, Dawood appeared to turn to that in an attempt to justify his actions. He told investigators he killed the Americans because he thought they were Jews and he did not want to live among them. He said no one had provoked him, though the senior Afghan official said that Dawood's fundamentalist education in Iran and Pakistan was probably a catalyst for this contempt.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company



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Europe’s COVID-19 Cases Are Spiking. Here’s How 4 Different Countries Are Trying to Stop A Second Wave

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A resurgence in COVID-19 cases has gripped countries across Europe, leaving politicians grappling with how to curb the spread of the virus. Governments are now strengthening regulations around mask-wearing, limiting the number of people that can gather in public spaces, and honing in on areas with particularly high numbers of cases.

This week, Europe experienced a record high number of new coronavirus cases reaching 71, 365 on Sept. 21, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. “More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 percent increase in the past two weeks,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe said at a briefing.

Even countries that had largely avoided the first coronavirus wave—such as Czech Republic—are now seeing surges. Stricter regulations to try and curb the spread of the virus could remain in place for the entire winter. In the United Kingdom, for example, where case rates are doubling by the week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions yesterday that could last six months, warning that the country is at “a perilous turning point.”

Many of the new restrictions, however, look different to those imposed at the beginning of the pandemic. Rather than implementing uniform, nationwide regulations, many countries are now opting for more localized approaches.

Why are governments in Europe locking down by region?

Countries are wary of nationwide lockdowns that would have crippling impacts on their economies. Local restrictions allow governments to curb the spread of the virus while keeping parts of the country—and the economy—open. But restrictions are also different this time because the nature of the pandemic itself has changed. New infection clusters appear to be linked to younger people, who are less likely to die of the virus. The result is that this latest surge of cases has so far been less deadly than the first back in March and less burdensome to healthcare services.

“Even if the number of cases are high, the impact in terms of hospitalization and deaths is very different [compared to March]”, says Dr Jacobo Mendioroz, the director and coordinator of the committee responding to coronavirus in Catalonia. Rather than calling for stay-at-home orders, many new restrictions target bars, restaurants or other public venues that young people may be more likely to frequent.

But the new restrictions could change if older people begin falling ill in greater numbers. Already, there has been a significant increase in the number of older people testing positive for the virus in France and Spain over the past two weeks, leading to upticks in hospital admissions. Rising case numbers threaten to overrun hospitals and health care services if not managed carefully. “We are not in the situation we were in March yet,” says Dominique Costalgliola, a member of the French Academy of Science and the vice-dean of research for the faculty of medicine at the Sorbonne University.

Here is how four European countries are responding to the recent surge of coronavirus cases:

Spain

Bernat Armangue—APElders wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus sit on a park in Madrid, Spain, on Sept. 23, 2020.

Spain has been facing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases since July and now has the highest infection rate in Europe. Over the past two weeks, 122,000 new COVID-19 cases have been reported, with close to a third of cases occurring in Madrid, the country’s capital. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at more than 640,000 and hospitals are reaching their maximum capacity.

On September 18, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the president of the Madrid region, announced a partial lockdown of the 37 most affected parts of the region, which came into effect on Monday. The measures—which affects close to 850,000 people, many of whom live in the poorest parts of the city—require individuals to provide justification for trips out of their neighbourhoods and has limited the number of people allowed in restaurants or retail establishments.

The news of the lockdown sparked protests in Madrid, where hundreds gathered on Sept. 20. The groups that organized the protests said in a statement that the government has done little to protect vulnerable people in the city and have “instead opted for stigmatisation, exclusion and territorial discrimination.”

France

On Sept. 12, French health authorities reported 10,561 new cases, the highest number since the pandemic began in March. Since then, daily cases have risen to more than 13,000. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases is now at 453, 763 and continues to rise. It has the second highest number of total cases in Europe, after Spain.

France Virus Outbreak
Bob Edme—APTechnicians prepare to collect nasal swab samples for at a COVID-19 testing centre in Bayonne, France, on Sept. 22, 2020.

The government has delegated the task of implementing new regulations to regional authorities. Currently, the outbreaks appear to be occurring in certain locations and not in others and a nationwide lockdown would have unnecessary economic repercussions, Prime Minister Jean Castex has said.

In Paris, Marseille and Bordeaux, all major hotspots for the virus, authorities have implemented local measures to curb the spread. In Bordeaux and Marseille, visits to care homes have been reduced, dancing has been banned at bars and weddings and local companies have been asked to make their employees work from home if possible. In Marseille and Paris, the sale and consumption of alcohol on the streets after 8pm has been banned. Wearing a face mask in public is now mandatory across Paris and many of its surrounding areas. Riot police units and gendarmes have been deployed to enforce these measures.

However, despite the tightening of these restrictions, the government announced on Sept. 20 that quarantine rules in elementary schools would be relaxed, amid rising evidence that children pose a small risk for the transmission of COVID-19. Schools will now only shut if a minimum of three students test positive for the virus.

Ireland

Ireland is facing a rise in COVID-19 cases, particularly in Dublin, the country’s capital. On Sept. 22, 188 new daily cases were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team, 76 of which are in Dublin. Ireland has logged 33,121 COVID-19 cases, in a country of 4.6 million.

The government introduced a new plan for ‘Living With Covid’ with 5 different levels. Dublin has been placed under level 3 restrictions, while the rest of the country is at level 2. In Dublin, indoor social gatherings have been limited to visitors from only one other household and cannot exceed six people. All museums and other cultural attractions have been closed. Restaurants, cafes and pubs can only stay open for take-away services or for outdoor dining. Everyone has been asked to work from home if possible.

At a COVID-19 briefing on September 21, Liz Canavan, the assistant secretary general at the Department of Taoiseach (the Irish’s Prime Minister’s office), said there was now “worrying trends in most areas,” making it possible that restrictions in Dublin could be extended to other parts of the country.

Germany

Virus Outbreak Germany Daily Life
Matthias Schrader—APYoung women wearing face masks as they walk trough downtown Munich, Germany on Sept. 22, 2020.

Germany has one of the most effective test, track and tracing systems in the world for COVID-19. And while the country is faring better than others in Europe, Germany is nevertheless seeing a rise in case numbers, with 1,345 new cases reported on September 20, increasing the total number of confirmed cases to 271,415. German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said that surges in infection rates in neighbouring countries have affected—and would inevitably continue to affect—Germany.

Like in other nations, many of Germany’s new restrictions are highly localized. In the southern state of Bavaria—which is the most affected part of the country—new measures were implemented on Sept. 22, the toughest restrictions Germany has seen since it began relaxing measures back in May. Gatherings are now limited to five people or two households, mask-wearing is mandatory in public areas, alcohol consumption in public places is banned and a curfew on restaurants has been implemented.





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FBI warns ‘foreign actors’ likely to spread misinformation on election results

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Intelligence bureau encouraged Americans to be patient and ensure they are getting information from trusted sourcesThe FBI has published a public service announcement warning that “foreign actors” and cybercriminals will likely attempt to spread misinformation about the results of the 2020 presidential election.The intelligence bureau encouraged Americans to be patient about the results of the election and ensure they are getting information from trusted sources, amid expectations that there won’t be a definitive result on “election night”, 3 November , because it takes longer to gather and count mailed-in ballots.There is expected to be tens of millions more Americans than usual voting by mail in this election because of precautions about spreading the coronavirus by going to polling stations in person, which could lead to chaos if candidates claim victory prematurely and the verified result takes many days to emerge.“Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites, and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in US democratic institutions,” the agency warned on Tuesday.The announcement emphasized that it may take several days for state and local officials to certify votes, meaning results could be incomplete on the night of the election.The announcement came soon after reports first published by the Washington Post that Russian president Vladimir Putin and his aides are “probably directing” an operation to influence the election against Joe Biden, according to two anonymous sources who reviewed a classified CIA assessment.The assessment details attempts by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who has public connections to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to spread discrediting information about Biden to members of Congress, lawmakers and members of the media.While accusations of Derkach’s attempt to spread misinformation about Biden, which Derkach has denied, have been known for some time, the CIA’s assessment was the first indication that Putin could be directly orchestrating the operation.“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former US Vice President, supporting the US president and fueling public discord ahead of the US election in November,” the first line of the document says, according to the sources.In July, Biden released a comprehensive statement that, if elected, he will hold Russia and other foreign governments accountable for any interference with the election.At the time, Democrats in Congress were raising concerns over foreign election interference and demanded a briefing from the FBI.In his statement, Biden criticized the Trump administration for failing to take actions to deter and counter any foreign interference, refusing to use the president’s authority to sanction certain countries that are accused of trying to influence the American election.Over the last few months, Trump has dismissed concerns about foreign influence coming from online and has said that mail-in ballots are susceptible to foreign interference, a claim that has been overwhelmingly debunked by top intelligence officials and experts who say that mail-in voting is safe from foreign influence.



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